Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
4 min read
So far, much of the evidence to support the theory that magnesium helps with leg cramps is anecdotal. Some claim that taking a magnesium supplement has indeed helped with their leg cramps. And there’s been some correlation demonstrated between people with magnesium deficiencies and the presence of leg camps: pregnant people, for example, are more likely to be magnesium-deficient, and also commonly experience leg muscle cramps.
That all being said, studies have not consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of magnesium supplements in remedying leg muscle cramps. For example: One randomized controlled trial, which included 94 adults, found no difference between the placebo group and the magnesium supplement group in terms of the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps. Notably, both groups did see their experience of nocturnal leg cramps decrease significantly. Another study, this one specifically pertaining to pregnant women, assessed the effect of 360 mg of oral magnesium on leg cramps during pregnancy, and found “no significant effect.”
A 2018 study, though, conducted in hospitals and outpatient clinics throughout Ukraine, showed some promising signs. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found a greater reduction of nocturnal leg cramps among the group that took magnesium oxide monohydrate, a particular magnesium supplement, as compared with the placebo group.
So, it remains possible that magnesium supplements can help with leg cramps. More research is needed.
While there are many common causes of leg cramps, sometimes the cause simply isn’t known. Some common causes include dehydration, overuse of a muscle, muscle strain, or holding one position for too long. Pregnant people are also particularly prone to getting leg cramps, especially at night; this is likely due to the fact that the added weight of the growing baby adds pressure to the pregnant person’s legs. Leg cramps are also commonly caused by exercise, even among fit athletes. Questions remain as to whether such cramps are caused by fatigue or by an electrolyte deficit.
You should try your best to avoid a magnesium deficiency. For adults aged 19-51, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 400-420 mg per day for men and 310-320 mg for women. Pregnancy changes the calculation slightly, upping the RDA to 350-360 mg.
Some of the best sources of magnesium you can get are foods you can easily add to your diet. Some magnesium-rich foods include: legumes, whole grains, avocados, nuts and seeds, tofu, greens, bananas, and dark chocolate. Your body absorbs between 30-40% of the magnesium you consume in your diet. To prevent a deficiency, some small dietary adjustments can go a long way.
It’s important to keep in mind that the evidence to suggest that magnesium supplements treat leg cramps is limited at best. That said, magnesium citrate is the supplement thought to be most easily absorbed by the body. Moreover, a study of Ukrainian subjects found that magnesium oxide monohydrate supplements, taken daily, had a greater effect on relieving nocturnal leg cramps than the placebo had.
When you’re actively experiencing a leg cramp, there are a few stretches you can try. Reach down and pull your toes toward your head until the cramp pain dissipates. Do a lunge, with your leg that isn’t cramped forward, to stretch the cramped leg behind you. For more ideas, check with a medical professional with expertise in this area.
Stretching can also be helpful as a preventative step. A 2012 study found that stretching before bed can help reduce the pain and frequency of nocturnal leg cramps in older adults.
Massages help with blood flow and increase your muscles’ relaxation. You may also want to check out foam rolling. You can use a foam roller on your own, stimulating relaxation and helping blood flow to your muscles.
Hydration is crucial to your health for many reasons, and it may be the key to addressing your problem with leg cramps. Some sources claim that cramping in the legs and abdomen can be caused by a fluid and electrolyte imbalance, brought on by dehydration. A 2018 study also found that alcohol consumption was linked to nocturnal leg cramps in older adults, though the study’s authors note that more studies are needed. Drinking too much alcohol, of course, can contribute to dehydration.
Some people claim that boosting their magnesium intake – whether through diet or a supplement – has helped with their leg cramps. Still, the scientific evidence to date is limited at best. You should still do your best to avoid magnesium deficiency, since magnesium is essential for your body’s overall functioning. And, whether or not magnesium is part of the solution to your leg cramp woes, there are many other remedies that you may find helpful. Try some of the strategies listed above – and, as always, check with a medical professional for additional guidance.